Immigrant New Yorkers authorized to work in U.S. may get voting rights in city elections under proposed Council bill
New York City immigrants who have legal working papers but are not yet U.S. citizens may soon be able to vote in municipal elections.
Legislation to grant noncitizen immigrants city voting rights will be introduced to the City Council on Thursday, sources familiar with the matter told the Daily News.
The bill, which is sure to draw criticism from conservatives, would amend the City Charter to allow Big Apple residents with green cards and noncitizen work authorizations to cast ballots in mayoral and other local races.
The measure could mean that anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million city residents would gain the ability to vote, a potential sea change in the city’s electoral dynamics.
“This bill is about making democracy better,” said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the legislation’s chief sponsor. “It will invite anyone who wants to be a leader in this city to connect to these voters.”
He said that 22 Council members are backing the bill so far, as well as city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) supported an earlier version of the proposal in 2010, but it died in the Council.
He hopes this time will be different given the way immigrants have been treated by President Trump and the backlash against Trump.
Rodriguez said, “2020 is a year when the conversation about immigrants is completely different than 2009.”
His bill would not give noncitizens the ability to vote in national or state elections.
Many advocates for the measure have been pushing hard for noncitizen residents to participate in the 2020 census, which will determine legislative districts and how much electoral influence states have in Congress. Those backers contend that their census efforts, as well as voter suppression in states like Georgia, have helped crystallize their feeling that now is the time for this bill to gain traction in the Council.
“It’s making sure we avoid taxation without representation,” said Steve Choi, director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “That’s a fundamental principle our democracy was founded on.”
Susan Stamler, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, another supporter of the bill, said that despite what opponents might say, the measure is not a radical move and is a simple matter of morals.
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Washington Heights, New York– Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Costa Constantinides today announced a resolution in support of the State bill to Cancel Rent for struggling New Yorkers who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last thing New Yorkers struggling through this pandemic should worry about is where they’ll live,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, District 22. “Rent is due in just nine days for thousands of our neighbors who don’t have a job now. This should be the last of anyone’s concerns as they try to stay safe, care for their families, and access healthy food. I call on Albany to pass Senator Gianaris and Assembly Member Niou’s bills to Cancel Rent.”
“If people cannot work due to circumstances out of their control, why haven’t we already taken the steps to make sure their rents and mortgages are suspended? May 1st is next Friday and again tenants and small business owners will be facing the harsh reality of being unable to pay their rent,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez representing the 10th Council District, (Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill), “Today, I am proud to stand alongside my colleague Costa Constantinides as we introduce this resolution calling on the state legislature and Governor Cuomo to pass S.8125-A introduced by Senator Gianaris and A-10224-A introduced by Assembly Member Niou. This is a bill that will put people and small businesses first, not the banks or large corporations. This legislation will directly help the poor, underserved communities who have had to endure the worst of this pandemic.”
The resolution specifically calls on the state legislature to pass A.10224-A, introduced by Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, and its State Senate counterpoint S.8125-A, introduced by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. It additionally calls on Governor Cuomo to sign legislation if enacted, which would cancel rent for certain New Yorkers who have lost their jobs or for small businesses forced to close over the coronavirus.
“It has been clear for weeks now that rents cannot be paid with money that doesn’t exist and therefore, rent will be cancelled whether or not we authorize it by law. I appreciate Council Member Constantinides joining the growing chorus of leaders who know we must provide serious rent relief and bring stability to the housing market before it devolves into a full blown crisis,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris.
“Thank you to Council Member Costa Constantinides’ for introducing a resolution in support of my legislation alongside Senator Gianaris which will suspend rent payments for certain residential tenants, small business commercial tenants, and certain mortgage payments,” said Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. “May first is upon us. Most people have not gotten any help in this crisis. It is critical that we work together as City and State to ensure that our small businesses and our community members who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 are able to maintain their commercial space and/or ensure that everyone has a safe place to stay throughout the course of this pandemic. In this time of crisis and turmoil we must work together to support our community members who need it the most.”
Indeed, the outbreak has put many New Yorkers out of work – making it impossible to pay rent. A CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy survey conducted earlier this month that 35 percent of households reported someone losing their job due to COVID-19. Many non-essential small businesses have been unable to produce the revenues necessary to pay rent.
Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on three additional committees: Sanitation, Resiliency, and Technology. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.
Ydanis Rodriguez was elected to the New York City Council in 2009, representing the 10th Council District (Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill). An educator for 13 years, Ydanis co-founded Gregorio Luperon High School and the Washington Heights Health Academy. As a leading voice at the NYC Council, Ydanis has brought changes in transportation, education, economic development, housing, police reform, healthcare, environmental policy, and ensuring low-income families have an equitable path to the middle class.
Ydanis Rodríguez pide al Alcalde Bill De Blasio cerrar la ciudad de New York
El concejal Ydanis Rodríguez, aspirante al Congreso, por el Distrito 13 de El Bronx, pidió parar la circulación de trenes, autobuses y cerrar la ciudad de Nueva York al alcalde Bill De Blasio.
Recomendó poner en practica un plan de austeridad de los residentes para que se queden en casa con la finalidad de evitar el contagio de COVID-19. De esta manera, contribuir a parar el alto porcentajes de muertes que día tras día se produce en la ciudad que nunca duerme, Nueva York.
Rodríguez indicó que ha estado en conversación con todos los concejales del Concejo Municipal, con el congresista Adriano Espaillat, la asambleísta Carmen de la Rosa entre otros funcionarios electos. Y buscar opciones para frenar la pandemia del COVID-19, que ha golpeado a la ciudad de Nueva York, más que cualquier país de América Latina, y que todavía no encuentra la vía para allanar la línea de contagios.
El concejal dijo que la realidad que se está viviendo en la ciudad de Nueva York, por primera vez en la historia universal duerme, y ha pausado sus múltiples actividades, debido a la pandemia.
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City’s Small Businesses Need Rent Stabilization to Survive COVID-19, Advocates Say
Creamy, pink, infused with spices and sugar, and garnished with crushed pistachios, Kashmiri chai is decadently delicious. The painstaking process of making this tea begins with boiling green tea leaves with baking soda, sparking a chemical reaction that reddens them. “My father perfected it,” says Rizwan Hamid, 35, whose father, Abdul Hamid, came to New York from Pakistan in 1978 and opened Al-Naimat Restaurant & Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens, in 2000.
Kashmiri chai’s higher production cost explains its price tag: Al-Naimat charges $2 a cup, twice the price of regular chai. “It’s a luxury item,” says Hamid, “So no one is buying it anymore.”
As COVID-19 escalated throughout February and March, New Yorkers began stocking up on groceries and eating at home, and Al-Naimat’s sales declined. Since March 23 alone, the first day Governor Andrew Cuomo placed New York State on PAUSE – closing non-essential businesses, banning gatherings, and urging New Yorkers to stay home – sales dropped 80 percent, says Hamid.
With sales plummeting and storefronts shuttering across the city, worries about rent have come to the forefront for small business owners like Hamid, who struggle with high rent and property taxes. In New York City and across the U.S., small businesses were in a precarious situation even before the COVID-19 crisis: A 2019 nationwide survey by the Federal Reserve found that 70 percent of small employers have outstanding debt. Another 2016 JPMorgan study found that most small businesses’s cash reserves would not provide a sufficient cushion in case of a significant economic downturn, and that the median independent restaurant had enough cash to last only 16 days.
United for Small Business NYC (USBnyc), a coalition of NYC community organizations dedicated to protecting small businesses from displacement, sees commercial rent stabilization as a way to ease the burden. “Removing the ability of speculative landlords to implement outrageous rent increases is really important to prevent displacement,” says Karen Narefsky, senior organizer for equitable economic development at Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD), which convenes USBnyc.
USBnyc is currently campaigning for Intro 1796, a commercial rent stabilization bill that Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin introduced last November. Just as apartments in New York City are rent stabilized, it would create a board that determines an acceptable annual rent increase that landlords could not exceed.
The Real Estate Board of New York strongly opposes the bill, pointing to rising property taxes and other factors as the true culprits crippling entrepreneurs. “The small businesses we speak to cite many factors that negatively impact their current condition, starting with overburdening government regulations and the added costs of implementing a significantly higher minimum wage and paid sick time,” Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release REBNY issued the same day that Levin proposed Intro 1796.
However, a 2019 ANHD report identified rent burden as the top concern for immigrant small business owners throughout New York City, with 68 percent of those in Jackson Heights experiencing a rent burden even before coronavirus forced them to shut down.
“The crisis is exacerbating pre-existing issues. The two biggest things I hear from businesses is they don’t know how they’re going to pay rent, or pay their employees,” says Shrima Pandey, small business program manager with Chhaya CDC, a Jackson Heights-based non-profit that helps local businesses like Al-Naimat. “Rent is a key factor right now.”
Staying open to shrinking customers
Al-Naimat serves a hot buffet with Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi curries and kebabs, but its front counter – selling colorful, sugary South Asian sweets – normally makes up 75 percent of sales, according to Hamid. In the era of coronavirus, however, people are forgoing indulgences; sweets suddenly dropped to 20 percent of sales. Instead, customers stocked up on meals like butter chicken, biryani, and chana masala.
“People are buying two days’ worth of food and freezing it,” says Hamid, who took over daily operations so his father, who is 75 and in poor health, can stay home.
Four days into the coronavirus lockdown, Hamid confided that he would also like to be at home with his wife, children, and newborn baby, but felt a responsibility to Al-Naimat’s customers. “In the restaurant business, customers need to trust that you’ll be there every day when they’re hungry,” he says. “There are people who rely on us on a daily basis.”
One regular customer, Zafar Qureshi, 73, stumbled upon Al-Naimat the day it opened in Jackson Heights’s Little India, a dense shopping and culinary destination. Now Qureshi’s daily routine involves stopping by for supper on his way to work nights in security at LaGuardia Airport, coming home to sleep and returning for brunch when he wakes up. He is drawn not only by meals, but by social connections. “My friends know that I will be there seven days a week, so they find me there,” he says. “That place is practically like my home.”
When the mayor suspended public school classes and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery starting March 17, Hamid decided to offer free lunches for children. “The whole purpose was to put a smile on a child’s face, and a parent’s face, because some parents rely on that meal their kid gets from public school,” he said.
Hamid posted a sign on their front door and social media proclaiming, “Al-Naimat will be serving our children: Free School Lunch for all students.” He bought cases of juice boxes and planned to let children choose a hot food from the buffet, salad with carrot sticks, and dessert. Hamid, who comes from a long line of traditional sweets makers, took particular delight in planning the dessert: he packed small plastic containers of burfi, a fudge made of condensed milk – chocolate for boys, and for girls, tri-color burfi with pink, green, and white layers.
Then he waited for families to come in. But the long, lonesome week proved that parents were afraid to take their children outside. Only one child came, pulled along by an anxious mother and grandmother. Their downcast expressions changed to smiles when Hamid offered the special lunch. Opening her lunchbox, the young girl went straight for the tricolor burfi. Hamid’s excitement matched her own.
“It’s in our religion to give, to feed. The Muslim and Pakistani community love to feed. My dad and mom love to feed people,” says Hamid. “It’s good for the heart.”
Between sporadic visits from customers, Hamid sat in the back of the eerily empty restaurant. It reminded him of the aftermath of September 11th, when hate crimes shook the Muslim community. Hamid remembers people’s fear of coming to Jackson Heights. Sales fell 20 percent that year. “September 11th was a shakedown,” says Hamid. “COVID-19 is a lockdown.”
A long-running debate
To help with that enormous strain, advocates like USBnyc and Chhaya call for both a rent cancellation for at least 60 days, and for the passage of Intro 1796 as a way to provide stability for commercial tenants long-term.
“A lot of businesses have been forced to close, which is good because it reduces virus spread and keeps people safe, but it means they have no income. Many commercial landlords are still charging rent at this time,” says Narefsky. “It raises the question of where this money will come from if tenants don’t have income.”
Commercial rent stabilization in New York City has been debated since 1985, when then-Manhattan Councilmember Ruth Messinger called for commercial rent restrictions. Over the past 35 years, the City Council has engaged in a repetitious dance on the issue, with councilmembers proposing rent control bills and detractors citing legal concerns.
Most recently, in 2018, Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez introduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act bill, which would establish “an environment for fair negotiations in the commercial lease renewal process,” but the New York City Bar Association determined the City Council has no legal power to enact commercial rent control.
In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio in his State of the City Address unveiled a plan to save small businesses that once again put commercial rent stabilization on the table. He will convene a “blue ribbon commission” of real estate and legal experts to find ways to support small businesses and deliver recommendations by the end of this year, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief commercial tenants’ lack of rights and protections, lending new urgency to this legislation, proponents argue.
The outbreak has disrupted society on a scale that most New Yorkers have never witnessed, except perhaps those who lived through WWII. In 1945, near the end of the war, New York City instituted commercial rent control as an emergency wartime measure, authorized by the state. The Court of Appeals held that it did not unconstitutionally interfere with property rights, and rent control lasted until 1963, when state legislature let the law expire. It was “the only sustained precedent for commercial rent control in American history,” wrote W. Dennis Keating in a 1985 report.
Now, with national chains like Cheesecake Factory and Subway declaring that they will not pay April rent, time will tell if advocates can establish a similar emergency measure.
Making a tough decision
On Friday, March 27, the fifth day of lockdown, Hamid stood behind Al-Naimat’s counter wearing a surgical mask. His eyes crinkled when he smiled, but he looked off into the distance when he talked about his and his father’s late night decision to close the restaurant.
At home the previous night, they had watched grim news reports about mounting deaths at nearby Elmhurst Hospital, only five blocks from Al-Naimat. Thirteen coronavirus patients at the hospital died that Wednesday, and with the morgue at capacity, refrigerated trucks parked outside to hold bodies. The epicenter had found them.
Customers straggled in to pick up DoorDash orders, and Hamid informed them of the closure.
One customer got teary. “What will I do?”
“I’m sorry,” Hamid told her. “We’re thinking of everyone’s safety.”
Qureshi had come in earlier and bought enough food to last 8 or 10 days. “I’m feeling sad,” he sighs. “I don’t like the food at the other places, but if I have to live, I have to eat.”
Hamid, his brother-in-law and one employee spent their last hours cleaning up and packing food to donate to a nearby church. The Kashmiri chai sat untouched.
Hamid’s landlord, currently in India, hasn’t contacted him, though March and April rent is past due. “Hopefully that rent cancellation bill passes. If not, we’ll tell the landlord we don’t have it. You’re the rich guy, you can sustain yourself, so please don’t ask anything from us for now,” says Hamid. “We’re all in this together.”
At the end of the day Hamid posted a photo of the restaurant interior on Snapchat, turned off the lights and locked the doors. He stood outside, looking at the door and thinking of his father’s sacrifices.
With no idea of when Al-Naimat will reopen, Hamid must reckon with how his business will survive this economic shock, and how his family will survive the virus.
“We just take two hands and pray to God.”
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For the last two months, New York City has been facing the most challenging health crisis since the days of the Spanish flu at the beginning of the 20th century. Our government has had to rapidly adapt, making decisions that have life-and-death consequences for New Yorkers of all walks of life. And while we remain determined to fight an invisible enemy, the pandemic has further exposed the all too evident historical racial and economic inequalities that have exacerbated the rate at which low-income communities of color have contracted COVID-19.
As the data has shown, underserved, immigrant communities, such as those of Northern Manhattan, the South Bronx, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona, among others, which have experienced the highest rates of coronavirus infection, remain the most vulnerable owing to the disadvantages created by poor and hard living conditions. These neighborhoods are home to a large quantity of our essential workers and employees who cannot afford the luxury of “working from home” or taking consecutive days off to self-quarantine. These hard-working New Yorkers often commute to work using our public transportation system and deserve to receive the same care and attention as those that live in wealthier neighborhoods.
We must take a proactive approach to this unprecedented crisis and ensure that all the seriously affected communities receive the care and attention they need. This means establishing mass testing across the city for the novel coronavirus, increasing isolation capabilities for New Yorkers, supplying our essential workers with PPE equipment, and implementing effective physical distancing protocols within our public transportation system. The only defense we continue to have against this virus is prevention, diagnosis and self-isolation. If we continue to fail on these fronts, the pipeline to our hospitals ICU rooms will go on unabated.
Some of these recommendations have been partially put in place, but the initial delay and continued failure to fully implement them is made apparent with every daily report showing high rates of coronavirus in our low-income neighborhoods. I am not surprised. Those who live and experience the conditions of our low-income and immigrant communities know how this history always repeats itself. Communities severely affected by growing economic crisis, evictions, mounting debt, job loss, and community disinvestment are expected to suffer most under a health crisis such as this.
As an entire nation pays attention to our response to this pandemic and looks for guidance in our actions, we’ll be remembered for how effectively we addressed it, but also, for how fairly we treated our most vulnerable New Yorkers.
Ydanis Rodriguez represents Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill. Follow him on Twitter at @ydanis.
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New York City’s crowded apartments pose particular threat when it comes to coronavirus
The cleaning is constant and the fear never-ending for Yoly Sanchez and her family of 11.
When Sanchez’s brother-in-law became the first confirmed coronavirus case in her packed two-bedroom Washington Heights apartment, their lives changed immediately and dramatically.
“We couldn’t really quarantine,” Sanchez, 46, told the Daily News. “All of us were together and using the same space so we could have all given it to one another.”
In New York City, where many living situations are multi-generational and translate into a crowded home, many renters are struggling with how to quarantine and keep family members safe in conditions that are not conducive to either.
Sanchez’s situation is especially extreme because her sister’s family of four is staying with her, her husband, their three children, an aunt and a niece.
Her sister’s family came to New York from the Dominican Republic to look for an apartment. But those plans didn’t materialize.
Her brother-in-law Santiago Gomez fell ill and later tested positive for COVID-19. His family could not return home because of new travel restrictions.
He’s now in the hospital, and the family remains packed in Sanchez’s apartment struggling to enforce a quarantine on themselves with little success.
Soon, Sanchez got sick. Then her nephew. And her aunt. And her son.
Two people sleep to a bed. The men are packed into the living room and sleep either on a futon or an inflatable bed.
Going to the apartment’s one bathroom meant using Clorox and alcohol to disinfect after each trip.
“I had to text or call to let everyone know I was coming out (of my room), and they would close all room doors,” Sanchez said. “When I had my fever, which lasted for around 10 days, we had to do a constant cleaning after each bathroom use either by me my aunt or sister.”
Living arrangements like this, common for many New Yorkers, are why Mayor de Blasio announced Thursday that the city would be readying 11,000 hotel rooms for people living in packed apartments to have a better chance of effectively quarantining.
Elected officials like Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Washington Heights) said the city needs to do much more if it wants to effectively slow the spread of the virus.
“There are 100,000 empty rooms in the hotels,” Rodriguez said. “The governor and the mayor have to understand that to do self quarantine in our city is the privilege of the wealthy, which we also have to provide to the poorest New Yorkers.”
Dr. Ramon Tallaj, chairman of SOMOS Community Care, a healthcare provider, told The News he pleaded with de Blasio for a month to address the issue. “We were fighting, asking, working, pushing,” he said.
The requests took weeks to gain traction. Tallaj said when he was finally able to broach the subject with de Blasio’s deputy mayor for health, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, he was told that enacting such a plan would make people nervous.
Tallaj suggested that based on current rates of infection, considerably more beds will be needed to safely quarantine people and more antibody tests are necessary to safely send people back to work.
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Statement: Do Not Let Another Latino, Afro-American, Asian, Or The Poorest New Yorker Die
No one would be talking about reopening the City if the majority of New Yorkers dying and contracting COVID19 would be those of privileged backgrounds. This virus has devastated Latino, Afro-American, Asian, and low-income communities disproportionately. Across the Nation, people in underserved neighborhoods are dying and being infected at higher rates than any other group. We are not expendable. We need to take action now and implement a plan that would effectively stop the rate at which the novel coronavirus is spreading in our communities. We cannot afford to lose another life to COVID19 when we can prevent it.
We need to accomplish the following:
Completely close New York City for two weeks to curtail the spread of infection.
Implement mass testing in the poorest communities, such as we have seen done in the wealthier areas.
Work alongside the hotel industry to use the over 100,000 rooms they have available for New Yorkers who have tested positive for COVID19 and do not have the luxury or ability to self-quarantine.
Increase the level of care and attention given to the working class communities across the 5 boroughs.
Work alongside SOMOS, the Doctors’ network that has the capability to test over 75,000 New Yorkers.
I am ready to work alongside Latino, Afro-American, and Asian communities, as well as elected officials including Senator Chuck Schumer, Congress Member Adriano Espaillat, José E. Serrano, and the New York City Congressional Delegation to address the lack of attention being given to our poorest neighborhoods. We must work together to ensure that our most vulnerable and marginalized communities are protected during this national pandemic.
WageWorks, MTA Dispute Over Refunds for Unused Pre-Paid Commuter Benefits
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, WageWorks and the MTA are not providing refunds for transit passes of New York City workers who have been ordered to stay home. WageWorks’ Transitchek program enables commuters to use pre-tax dollars of up to $270 a month to pay for subway, bus, train, ferry, car or eligible vanpools, while also reducing payroll taxes paid by their employers.
On March 18, Governor Cuomo ordered the closing of all non-essential businesses, from March 22 until April 15.
The next day, WageWorks sent emails to some of its customers’ benefits administrators, entitled “Update on COVID-19 and your commuter benefit – no action needed.” In three separate bullets it said,
- The fulfillment for your upcoming April commuter order will go forward as usual.
- Regular established pass return and refund policies remain in effect.
- If and when transit and parking providers make changes to their policies in response to COVID-19, we will work with them to extend those to you.
The WageWorks email contained links to summaries of return and refund policies at the MTA and also said, “if you need to make changes to pending elections, please log in to your account by your order deadline.”
However, the MTA’s website says it does not provide refunds for MetroCards “while the transit system continues to operate” and is unable to resolve issues with “pre-tax MetroCards you received through programs like WageWorks.”
“Many workers were essentially forced to go ahead with purchases of MetroCards that they would have canceled if they had a choice,” said Gabrielle Prisco, a WageWorks participant and employee of a New York City-based non-profit. She was particularly riled by WageWorks’ internal policy requiring participants to make changes to their benefits by the 10th of each month. “If the deadline had been extended, rather than paying for a MetroCard they won’t use, some workers would have used that money for actual emergency needs—such as extra food or medicine, or compensating for a family member’s lost income.”
WageWorks sent Debbie Spero’s company a similar email, on the evening Cuomo ordered the “pause.” That version included a bullet that said, “Please note there are no credit or refund options for the Premium TransitChek MetroCard product.” And it said employees had until March 31 to log onto their accounts to make changes to their pending May benefits.
“I called Transitchek on April 9th to see if I could cancel my May (PMC benefit) and they said I could not suspend May on April 9,” said Spero, a new business development manager for a metro area IT staffing firm. That’s when she found out WageWorks required employees at her firm to make changes by the eighth of each month. After several days of calls, Spero says, a WageWorks supervisor told her, “the only thing I could do now was to suspend my June Metrocard and told me I had until the end of April to do so.”
On April 16, Cuomo extended the closure of non-essential businesses to May 15.
It is unclear how many TransitChek participants there are. Sponsors of a 2016 New York City law requiring non-governmental businesses with more than 20 full-time workers to offer the benefit, estimated it would increase TransitChek membership to 1.45 million riders from 1 million.
WageWorks administers consumer-directed benefits and charges companies a fee for every participant in a company’s pre-tax commuter benefits plan, as well as other monthly expenses. WageWorks is a subsidiary of publicly traded HealthEquity.
WageWorks declined to say how many workers receive its commuter benefits in New York or the how many of those may be affected by the governor’s shutdown.
”We have and continue to support transit agency policies like the MTA, NJ Transit and others, related to returning passes. We’re constantly exploring options to ease the burden on people who are unable to use their passes and will continue to support the decisions transit agencies make regarding the return of their passes,” said Maureen Locus, WageWorks’ senior manager of corporate communications, in a statement.
“We communicated to all our members regarding future elections and encourage them to determine if they may have a transit need. Members may continue to adjust their account as appropriate, given their commute needs,” said Locus.
Demands for refunds and cancellation of payroll deductions linked to Covid-19 come as the MTA faces huge deficits, and a 60 percent decline in subway ridership and up to 90 percent on commuter railways.
“MTA is in dire straits with money and has asked for another $3.9B from federal government,” said MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels, in a statement.
“The MTA continues to run essential service for essential employees and those are the people who are, and should be, commuting to their jobs. Companies who have been providing commuter benefits through payroll deductions, and have changed to a telecommuting policy, have a responsibility to notify employees about how to manage their accounts to accommodate their commuting status,” she added.
Daniels says the MTA sells 3 million MetroCards annually to WageWorks for use on MTA subways and buses. It sells 75 million MetroCards overall.
In a statement provided to City Limits on Wednesday afternoon, the MTA said: “It is WageWorks’ responsibility to notify their customers who have changed to a telecommuting policy that they need to adjust their payroll deductions so their employees have enough notice to appropriately manage their accounts during this time. No one anticipated how this pandemic would affect working people and WageWorks, as the benefit provider, has an obligation to accommodate their customers as the MTA focuses on the important job of providing essential service for essential employees.”
[“Now is not the time to point fingers and deflect responsibility on who must refund riders,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee in a statement. “New Yorkers are going through an incredibly challenging time and we must work together to get them the help they need,” “Our priority is to support and help all workers currently impacted by COVID,” Rodriguez added.]
“The bottom line is that this decision risks public safety and is an economic injustice,” says Prisco.
Some transit agencies that partner with WageWorks are taking steps to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their commuting workers, including those in San Francisco and Philadelphia.
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“Debemos ayudar a todos los inquilinos y pequeños negocios que actualmente se ven afectadas por #COVID. Necesitamos suspender la renta por 3 meses para aquellos que han sido severamente afectados por el virus.”
El Concejo Municipal de la Ciudad de Nueva York presentó el miércoles un paquete legislativo a causa del COVID-19, el cual contempla alivio para pequeñas empresas e inquilinos, esto sin importar su estatus migratorio.
El paquete incluye un proyecto de ley que extiende el plazo que tienen los inquilinos afectados por la crisis de salud para pagar el alquiler y las deudas atrasadas, así como nuevas protecciones contra el acoso tanto para individuos como para dueños de pequeñas empresas.
También se propone una “Declaración de Derechos de los Trabajadores Esenciales de Nueva York”, que exige primas para los empleados esenciales no asalariados en las grandes empresas, además de que prohíbe el despido de trabajadores esenciales sin causa justificada y exige una licencia por enfermedad remunerada para ciertos trabajadores.
El paquete se presentó el miércoles durante la primera audiencia en línea del Concejo, que no sesiona desde el 13 de marzo. Los proyectos de ley serán analizados durante la próxima semana y medio.
“Estos proyectos de ley brindan alivio donde más se necesita en este momento, incluida la protección de los inquilinos del desalojo”, dijo el presidente del Concejo, Corey Johnson. “También estamos protegiendo a las pequeñas empresas y los trabajadores esenciales, que han sido muy afectados. Debemos seguir estos pasos para ayudar a garantizar que la ciudad de Nueva York siga siendo el lugar vibrante, diverso y emocionante que era antes de que COVID asolara nuestros vecindarios”.
AQUÍ LAS LEYES MÁS IMPORTANTES QUE ANALIZA EL CONCEJO MUNICIPAL:
PRIMAS PARA TRABAJADORES ESENCIALES
La medida requerirá que las grandes empresas paguen primas a ciertos trabajadores no asalariados, pero que son esenciales. El proyecto de ley requiere que las compañías con más de 100 empleados paguen $ 30 la hora a los trabajadores por un turno de menos de cuatro horas, $ 60 por un turno de cuatro a ocho horas y $ 75 por cualquier turno de más de ocho horas. La obligación finalizará cuando se levante el estado de emergencia.
PROTECCIÓN PARA TRABAJADORES ESENCIALES
El proyecto de ley prohibiría el despido de trabajadores esenciales sin causa justificada.
LICENCIA POR ENFERMEDAD PAGADA
El Concejo considera extender la licencia por enfermedad remunerada a contratistas independientes, esto incluye aquellos que trabajan medio tiempo o como independientes.
Los trabajadores independientes no fueron considerados en la ley de licencia por enfermedad pagada aprobada por la Legislatura del Estado de Nueva York. Este proyecto de ley cerraría ese vacío legal y ayudaría a que estos trabajadores de primera línea reciban licencia por enfermedad.
PROTECCIÓN PARA INQUILINOS Y DUEÑOS DE PEQUEÑOS NEGOCIOS
La medida impide que los alguaciles de la ciudad ejecuten desalojos y cobro de deudas tanto para inquilinos residenciales como para comerciales. Esto significa que esos inquilinos tendrían tiempo adicional para pagar el alquiler.
MULTAS A CASEROS POR ACOSO
Los caseros que acosen a un inquilino en función de su condición de persona afectada por COVID-19, incluso si es un trabajador esencial o porque fue despedido, enfrentaría una multa civil de $ 2,000 a $ 10,000.
El Gobierno neoyorquino brindaría a adultos sin hogar una habitación privada hasta el final de la pandemia a fin de reducir el riesgo de infección. En efecto, esto requeriría que la ciudad cierre los refugios de forma temporal y traslade a los residentes a hoteles u otras instalaciones con habitaciones privadas.
CALLES PARA PEATONES
Se abrirán calles exclusivas para peatones y ciclistas durante la pandemia para permitir a los neoyorquinos más espacio para el distanciamiento social.
PROTECCIÓN A DUEÑOS DE PEQUEÑOS NEGOCIOS
Amenazar a cualquier inquilino comercial basado en su condición de negocio afectado por el COVID-19 implicaría una multa civil de $ 10,000 a $ 50,000.
Shortly before Christmas a judge of the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan issued a ruling annulling the rezoning plan for Inwood that had been in the works since 2017 and was approved by the City Council in August 2018. The City has appealed the decision to the Appellate Division; the case may well go all the way to the Court of Appeals before it is finally resolved. But even if the decision is eventually reversed, this legal challenge has upended the long-established legal and political process for achieving rezonings and could have a detrimental impact on all future rezoning efforts in New York City.
Supreme Court Judge Verna Saunders found that a number of potential socio-economic impacts raised by community groups were not considered during the state- and city-required environmental review of the plan and sent it back to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development to study and address these concerns.
While I am neither a land use nor an environmental attorney, it seems to me common sense that some of the highlighted issues are impossible to fully assess because they are speculative and depend on so many economic, legislative, sociological, and other factors beyond local zoning. For example, ambulance response times or the impact on minority- and women-owned businesses.
Other issues may well have been considered but not explicitly addressed in the environmental reports. For example, the impact of the loss of the neighborhood public library was addressed: the zoning plan adopted by the Council included a brand new, larger, and better-equipped public library in a new building with 175 affordable apartments and a plan for a temporary relocation while the new library building is constructed.
But the specifics of the judge’s decision are not as significant as the fact that it creates uncertainty about the validity of a lengthy public review process in which the Mayor and the locally elected City Council Member were actively engaged and the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure was carefully followed.
The methodology for conducting environmental reviews of zoning proposals is set forth in a manual (the “CEQR Manual”) written and updated by a panel of experts that contains clear rules and standards for analysis. If litigation can successfully overturn a zoning plan by demanding that specific factors not included in the manual must be considered and addressed then there can be no certainty that any plan is final, no matter how robust the public and political review process and how carefully the standards of the manual have been followed.
The new buildings that were to be authorized by the Inwood rezoning, which would provide 1,300 units of affordable housing, are now on hold. The immediate consequences of derailing the zoning changes are that the demand for more housing in Inwood will force prices higher, not only depriving potential new residents of housing opportunities, but affecting current residents as well.
There may well be a broader impact. If, after three years of development, including 22 public meetings, input from the Community Board, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, and Council approval, a rezoning plan can no longer be regarded as firm and final, builders will be reluctant to get involved in these efforts at the outset and neighborhoods that need them will miss out on thousands more affordable housing units.
Moreover, the role of the local City Council Member in providing input and negotiating additional community benefits as part of rezonings is called into question. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the Inwood neighborhood, succeeded in including hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits to the community as part of the plan, including the new library, improvements to the local public school complex and park and community spaces, and funding for local anti-displacement and homeless service programs. All of these investments are now in doubt.
If the duly elected representative who knows the needs of the area best cannot be relied upon to definitively sign off on behalf of his constituents, why would other Council Members put themselves out there to influence and endorse a plan?
Change is hard and can be frightening. But it will happen, either haphazardly through as-of-right development under existing zoning, or through a more managed growth process in a thoughtful and coordinated way, through the land use review process with the input of community leaders who help maximize the benefits for the people who live there. The activists who challenged the Inwood rezoning plan, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, may have won a battle but hurt the long-term health of the City by leaving officials with no clear path to follow in their efforts to keep the city’s neighborhoods thriving.
Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.
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